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The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat)

January 9, 2015


Alexandre Desplat, 2014, Sony Music
21 tracks, 50:53

Alexandre Desplat has had a busy 2014. Busy, and also very succesful as he delivered several of the year’s best scores including “Godzilla“, the BAFTA nominated “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and the Golden Globe nominated “The Imitiation Game”.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Thriller about Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a genius mathematician who was hired by MI6 in 1939 to crack the German codes, including the deemed unbreakable Enigma. Turning builds a deciphering machine, cracks the code and becomes a hero. However, after the war the tide turns against him and he is imprisoned after revealing he’s gay. The film is directed by Morten Tyldum and features an original score by Alexandre Desplat, for which he has received a Golden Globe nomination.

What does it sound like?

It’s a lush score with a strong presence from strings and woodwinds, as well as from the piano. The rhythmic and often twinkling piano bares a resemblance to James Horner’s style; as do other parts of the score. Some of the suspense music (e.g. the opening of “Enigma”) reminds me of the modern side of John Williams (I’m thinking: “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence”); whilst some of the score’s lusher segments make me think of Danny Elfman’s “Black Beauty”. It’s not as if “The Imitation Game” sounds like anything specific, but it certainly has an air of familiarity about it. In my book, that’s not a bad thing. What I’m trying to illustrate is that the score features a fair amount of rhythmic material (not percussive), undoubtedly representing the mathematical code-breaking element of the story. Yet, it’s also rich with themes… lush, almost pastoral. In fact, it sounds English – if that makes sense.

The main theme is first heard in the album’s opening cue “The Imitation Game”, right from the get-go. At its core, it consists of 2 sets of 3 descending notes; but there are additional bridging notes and Desplat does vary with the direction of the notes. The theme recurs, in some shape or another, in many cues throughout the album. Lovely variations can be heard in cues like “Mission” and “Running”,

“Alan” is characterised by twinkling piano and a simple but pretty theme for horn and flute. It’s funny that solving puzzles and mathematical equations inspires composers to use arpeggios and other rhythmic devices (though, yes, there is a proven link between maths and music).This cue particularly resembles Horner’s use of piano; and I’m not referring to the obvious “A Beautiful Mind”, but to his more wondrous, high-pitched use of the piano.

“U-Boats” is a rhythmically interesting cue, somewhat resembling Desplat’s work on “Godzilla”, though not quite as forceful. Maybe more in line with his “Potter” or “Birth” scores. The title alone suggest that “Crosswords” will feature some fast-pace mathematical ostinatos… and it doesn’t disappoint. Piano, mallets and strings take centre stage. “The Machine Christopher” is a raging cue with arpeggios for strings (bowed and plucked), piano and mallets running counterpart to each other. Timpani offers a solemn rhythm, whilst a slow melodic line for horn adds depth. It’s quite a menacing cue; resembling a mad scientist or an out-of-control robot. Superficially, the arpeggios that run up and down the scales remind me of George Fenton’s “The Company of Wolves”

“Decrypting” continues in a similarly manic fashion, though has a much more upbeat feel about it. In fact, it has a sense of ’80s adventure movie’ about it. Things calm down a little with “A Different Equation”, “Becoming a Spy” and “The Apple”. The desolate piano chord in the latter, remind of “Alien”. I should point out that the comparisons I’m making are merely superficial. The score does have a familiar feel to it, but it’s not downright derivative.

The album ends on a sombre note with “Farewell to Christopher”, “End of War” and “Because of You”. The main theme is reprised beautifully (lush strings, piano arpeggios, soaring horns and Desplat’s trademark staccato woodwinds) in “Alan Turning’s Legacy”, which brings the album to a satisfaction close.

Is it any good?

The brand Alexandre Desplat stands for quality. It stands for music that is cleverly written, doesn’t bow to the lowest common denominator, and is exquisitely orchestrated. “The Imitation” does not disappoint. It is as beautiful as it is exciting. It does adopt a style that itself sounds familiar; as it does at times sound a bit like Horner or Elfman (in “Black Beauty” or “Corpse Bride” mode), but they are superficial, stylistic resemblances – never anything more than that. A handful of cues make for a subdued listening experience, but they are short and do help balance the album. So, why am I’m stopping short of giving this score the full five stars? As much as I love the piano arpeggios, the string ostinatos, the staccato flutes, the timpani and sticks and everything that drives this score forwards… I need to be in a special kind of mood to enjoy this perpetual ticking, clicking and twinkling; otherwise it can get on my nerves a little. Let there be no doubt though: it’s a magnificent album, from a melodic, rhythmic, compositional and orchestrations point of view. Very easily one of the year’s very best.

Rating [4/5]


01. The Imitation Game (2.37)
02. Enigma (2.50)
03. Alan (2.57)
04. U-Boats (2.12)
05. Carrots and Peas (2.19)
06. Mission (1.36)
07. Crosswords (2.52)
08. Night Research (1.39)
09. Joan (1.45)
10. Alone with Numbers (2.58)
11. The Machine Christopher (1.57)
12. Running (3.01)
13. Christopher is Dead (2.27)
14. Decrypting (2.01)
15. A Different Equation (2.54)
16. Becoming a Spy (4.08)
17. The Apple (2.20)
18. Farewell to Christopher (2.41)
19. End of War (2.07)
20. Because of You (1.36)
21. Alan Turing’s Legacy (1.56)


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